3TFO: Saints @ Falcons, Week 13
Some of the best rivalries are the ones where two teams in the same division are fighting year after year for the division crown. Recently, those rivalries have been one sided. In the AFC East it has been the Patriots and the Jets, but New England has come out on top in the past four head-to-head matchups. The Ravens have gotten the best of the Steelers in the last three AFC North battles, while the Packers have come out on top in five straight against the Bears in the NFC North.
In the NFC South, it is the Saints who have owned the rivalry with the Falcons, winning 11 of the past 13 dating back to the start of the Drew Brees era in New Orleans. Just a few weeks ago the Saints won the home duel 31-27. However, there are a few things that point to the Falcons having the advantage this time around, outside of home field advantage. Here are three matchups that could push this game in the Falcons favor.
Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham vs. Sean Weatherspoon
In the first game between the Saints and Falcons, Sean Weatherspoon was out with an injury. He is the Falcons’ premier coverage linebacker and he returned to the team’s lineup last week. He has allowed just 0.79 yards per coverage snap, which is the fifth-lowest in the league for 4-3 outside linebackers. While he allows an average 76.0% catch rate, what sets him apart is he allows only 3.7 yards after the catch per catch, which is the lowest in the league for the position.
On one hand, he can be used to help prevent Jimmy Graham from repeating his performance in their last meeting. In that game, Graham caught seven passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns, with half of his targets coming against linebacker Stephen Nicholas. On the other hand, he can help neutralize the return of Darren Sproles, who remains the second-most targeted running back in the league ,at 54 targets despite missing a few games due to a broken hand including the first Falcons game. While both Graham and Sproles are capable of big games, Weatherspoon can slow them down a lot better than his teammates could.
Saints Right Tackle vs. Falcons Outside Pass Rushers
The Saints have had no consistency at right tackle over the past few games. Starter Zach Strief has missed the last three weeks,while his backup Charles Brown started for two games and then missed the last one. Bryce Harris started last week in his place, but now is out for the year, while William Robinson took his spot. Strief is expected to start despite being limited in practice. Prior to his injury, Strief was hit or miss, with three games where he allowed two or more sacks/hits, and zero sacks/hits allowed in the other five games. Getting to Brees is the key, as he had 12.0 passing yards per attempt when he wasn’t under pressure in the last game against the Falcons, and 3.4 yards per pass attempt when he was under pressure.
The player most likely to get pressure against the right tackle is John Abraham. He typically only lines up on the defense’s left side on 31.5% of plays, but in some games where the matchup is favorable he will line up on the left more than the right. He has a Pass Rushing Productivity of 16.3 when lining up on the left, which is second-best for all 4-3 defensive ends on the left side, even though the sample size is only 89. Outside of that, Kroy Biermann will have a fair share of opportunities even though he only has three games this year with three or more pressures. Over the past five games, Jonathan Babineaux has also seen increased snaps at defensive end, and has 10 pressures over those games.
Tony Gonzalez vs. Entire Saints Defense
In the last matchup with the Saints, Tony Gonzalez had 11 catches on 15 targets for 122 yards and two touchdowns. There were nine different Saints defenders that were at one point of time the primary man in coverage on a Gonzalez target. On the year, the Saints have given up 764 yards to tight ends, or players playing in tight end positions, which is the most in the league. They have allowed that on 64 completions from 89 targets, as well as allowing five touchdowns. From Week 4 on, they have allowed 67 yards or more to this position in every game. The only linebacker with a positive coverage rating for the Saints is Jonathan Casillas, who recently played in the nickel defense with Curtis Lofton. In his 92 snaps in coverage, he has been the man in primary coverage only eight times. In that time he has allowed six catches for 74 yards and a touchdown.
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